During my sophomore year of college I met the most beautiful girl I’d ever seen. I built up the courage to ask her out, and to my amazement, she said yes. I was smitten. But after a few weeks of seeing each other, she drifted away. One night I saw her at a party with another guy. I was devastated.
Months later, she called me out of the blue. I was out of town with friends, but gave serious thought to driving back drunk because I was so excited to hear from her. Better judgment prevailed and I said I’d call when I returned. The following week I couldn’t get hold of her. We never spoke again.
They say time heals all wounds. I’m in my 30s now and this wound is still bleeding. What’s more, it’s been exacerbated. It recently came to my attention that she’s engaged to be married at the end of this month.
Now for the kicker. I’ve been married eight years and my wife is perfect. She’s smart and funny and beautiful. We own a successful business and travel the world. My wife is an astoundingly compassionate person. If I explained this to her, she would sit down and do her best to help me figure it out. I can’t do that because I know how much it would hurt her.
I understand what I’m feeling isn’t love. Love is what I have with my wife. A mutual respect and admiration resulting from years of shared experience. This is an obsession. But no matter how many times I tell myself that, I can’t change the way I feel.
I am suffocating. I’ve tried everything to fix this. I made a list of the good things in my life and thought how those things would disappear if I lost my wife. I’ve enhanced our sex life and started exercising more and drinking less. I’ve improved my diet. I’ve taken up hobbies. I’ve even practiced meditation. Nothing eases my pain.
I’ve never spoken a word of this to anyone. It’s festered inside me for over a decade. What can I do?
Grant, you are giving up your life to a woman who isn’t thinking of you. If you can’t let this go, you will suffer the losses that go with not living in reality. You’re like the man who loses his job, yet dresses each morning and leaves home as if he is going to work.
It’s shame that keeps him pretending, just as it is shame that keeps you silent. But there is nothing to be ashamed of. This isn’t something you consciously willed. Being married to a woman who is a great catch is not enough. Having the good material things in life is not enough either.
Your use of “it recently came to my attention” is one of those passive phrases that conceals the actor of an action. It doesn’t tell us the who, what and how. It suggests you have been tracking the other woman from a distance. That’s not the solution.
Neither is contacting her. What you remember about her is a made up, adapted, transmogrified memory. And a decade old.
Many mental problems can’t be solved by trying to “think your way out” or by reading self-help books. Though you’ve made a heroic effort, you can’t manage this on your own.
The only solution is to get to the bottom of this. You need to talk to an experienced counselor with expertise in memory and neuroscience. Love obsession is unusual but not unknown. Getting it out in a professional setting will give you a sense of relief, even as it brings some difficulties.
It’s time for change in the most intimate place in your life, your brain. It’s time to realize, at some point, your wife has a right to know and a right to determine her own life.
~ Wayne & Tamara
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Wayne & Tamara answer as many letters as they possibly can.